A New Perspective on the Rebuild of Our Steinway

In December 2015 we posted a video by H. Paul Moon about the painstaking rebuild by PianoCraft of our Steinway piano that lives in the Music Room. This major and sorely needed renovation of this precious instrument used lumber from the Sitka spruce, wood that is highly prized by musical instrument makers. This work was transformative, and our rebuilt piano has been played by many renowned and emerging pianists through our fantastic music program.

A recent front page Washington Post story caught my eye. It featured a large two column above-and-below-the-fold color photo of a Sitka spruce in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest on Prince of Wales Island off the pan handle of the state of Alaska. The reporter was Juliet Eilperin. Her story was not about Steinway pianos but rather about the tug of war between the market value of a 180-foot sitka spruce as timber (around 6,000 board feet of timber worth around $17,500) and its value as climate change mitigator capturing carbon dioxide (holding around 12 metric tons of carbon and another 1.4 tons in the roots). The article states that the Tongass National Forest “holds the equivalent of 9.9 billion tons of CO2–nearly twice what the United States emits from burning fossil fuels each year.” Since the US purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867, the value of the forest has been exploited to produce lumber, paper, rayon and other products. Preservationists have fought the building of roads and the pollution of paper mills. The indigenous Haida and Tlingit nations, drawing on an old and deep understanding of the resources of the forest, rivers, and ocean, argue that the old growth forests are essential for the landscape’s survival and also for their way of life. What are the solutions? To protect the forests by selling carbon credits to oil and gas companies, to foster a more balanced economy that depends not on industrial scale timber industry but on an intricate balance of Alaska native and small operator lumber companies, tourism, fishing, craft, and many other small industries.

This thoughtful, in-depth article brought me a new and unexpected appreciation of our beautiful Steinway piano. From now on I will marvel not only at its physical beauty, its auditory excellence, and of course the compelling art installed in the Music Room, but also at the magnificence and importance of a 500-year-old Sitka spruce to the ecological health of the planet and to the holistic well-being of the native peoples of Alaska. I will also pay tribute to the Piscataway and Anacostan native peoples of our DC region, on whose unceded land we live and work.

Happy 100th Birthday, Phillips Collection!

“Art is part of the social purpose of the world and a gallery can be a meeting place of many minds, harmonized by a genuine respect for the spirit of art, which is none other than the spirit of pleasure in the exchange of different attitudes and sensibilities.”—Duncan Phillips, A Collection Still in the Making, 1931

“This is a time when museums are needed even more, not only because they’re places that broaden the way we understand things and see things but also because in many ways, at their best, they’re part of the glue that holds communities together.”Lonnie Bunch, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, October 14, 2021

Mayor Muriel Bowser has proclaimed November 12, 2021, “The Phillips Collection Day” in honor of our centennial.

When the Phillips Memorial Gallery opened in 1921, it comprised one room and 237 paintings. The Phillips family lived in the building then, welcoming visitors into their home. 100 years later, The Phillips Collection, now with nearly 6,000 works of art and expanded buildings, is still home to more than 120,000 visitors each year. In hearing your favorite stories and memories, I know the Phillips is a special place for so many. While we have greatly extended our outreach globally, there are longtime DC residents who cherish the museum for its uniquely intimate, Washington experience. We hope that more people will be able to have these enriching encounters with art, for many more years to come. From 1921 to 2021, we have championed the power of museums to educate and build communities.

Celebrate with us at our Birthday Party today! Visit PhillipsCollection.org/events to make a reservation.

Despite myriad challenges, we have had a full centennial year so far. We showcased our collection and featured recent acquisitions with Seeing Differently: The Phillips Collects for a New Century. Our juried invitational Inside Outside, Upside Down and Community in Focus project made us smile and cry reflecting on all that we have experienced this past 20 months. We presented works by beloved artists like Jacob Lawrence, and contemporary voices like Marley Dawson, Victor Ekpuk, and Nekisha Durrett. We endowed the position of Horning Chair for Diversity, Equity, Access, and Inclusion, a powerful indication of our commitment to DEAI work. We have presented Duncan Phillips Lectures by Lonnie Bunch and Arlene Dávila (stay tuned for our final lecture from Elizabeth Alexander in January), had conversations with collectors and artists, and showcased the best of traditional and new chamber music. We have engaged with audiences of all ages (from our family workshops to our Creative Aging program with older adults) and continue our work with PK-12 students and teachers throughout the region.

It is especially fitting that our fall exhibitions honor DC icons David Driskell and Alma Thomas, two artists and educators who led the Washington creative space for many decades. They knew how important it is to have art—bright, bold, colorful art—in our world, just as Duncan Phillips did. I am humbled to shepherd this wonderful institution, and very proud of all that has been achieved over 100 years, creating a dynamic institution dedicated to Duncan Phillips’s vision to help the world “see differently” as artists see.

Thank you for celebrating “The Phillips Collection Day” with us!

Dorothy Kosinski

The Legacy of Wilhelmina Cole Holladay

Wilhelmina Holladay in the Great Hall of the National Museum of Women in the Arts. (Photo: Astrid Riecken for The Washington Post, via Getty Images)

I was saddened to learn of Mrs. Holladay’s passing last week. Wilhelmina Cole Holladay (1922-2021) founded the National Museum of Women in the Arts in 1981, an important institution that is a critical part of the Washington, DC, museum community. As the director of a museum that started as a private collection rooted in an individual’s vision, I cannot help but reflect on certain parallels. Duncan and Marjorie Phillips were supporters of contemporary artists, especially American artists, and with a determination to amass America’s first museum of modern art, shaped by their own unique taste and predilections. Mrs. Holladay was frustrated by the dearth of attention to women artists and was determined to focus her collection on their art, and to build a museum to give them center stage. Both collectors and museum founders required vision, focus, and determination, as well as a profound belief in the importance of art in our society. Mrs. Holladay’s project resonates more and more strongly today as a prescient view of how astonishingly neglected the artistic production of women was, and the continued struggle for equality today. I had the honor of meeting Mrs. Holladay several times and was always impressed by her seriousness and old-world dignity. We have deep respect for the impact she had in her life, and hope that The Phillips Collection can help continue her legacy by championing women artists in our galleries and beyond.